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PWR 91SP: Doctors' Stories: Communicating Health Sciences

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Catalog Number: PWR 91SP

Instructor: Sarah Pittock

2021-2022 Schedule: Spring 2022, M/W 1:30 - 3:00 P.M.

Units: 3

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: PWR 1 or equivalent

Course Feature: Science Communication track; WAY-CE

This course does not fulfill the WR-1 or WR-2 requirement

Course Description

While medicine is a science that relies on meticulous research and professional protocols, it is also full of characters, conflicts, scenes, dialogues, and resolutions; in other words, stories. This course investigates the ways stories serve medical doctors and patients alike through a number of rhetorical questions: How are we persuaded that a medical intervention is valuable, even when it’s experimental or elective? What is a case history and how does it inform diagnosis? How does expert research transition from lab bench to hospital bedside? Why does culturally responsive care matter? And how do we make meaning of illness? Visiting experts will share their stories to help us answer these questions: patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and their advocates; hospitalists who serve Hmong immigrants; MD administrators who teach empathy and bedside manner; and researchers who collaborate internationally to innovate medical technology. Foundational readings in ethical science communication as well as work by Arthur Kleinman, Rita Charon, and Atul Gawande will provide us with tools to critically assess medical discourse.  
Throughout the course, we will consider why we must value communication in medicine and how narratives both enlarge and limit that communication; in other words, we will cultivate our narrative awareness. In pursuing independent research on a topic of your choice in the health sciences, you will practice writing a number of health science communication genres: the story pitch, the news story, and the profile. Your final project will be a publishable, research-based digital narrative coached by the experts of the Stanford Storytelling Project and vetted by an editor or science writer from The Stanford Medicine News Magazine.

Major Assignments

News Story (15%)

Write an 800-word news story that translates a recent research article of your choice for a public audience. Talk with the authors of the article or a respondent to the research in order to produce your story.

Profile (20%)

Profile a scientist, clinician, or patient of your choice in a 1,000-word narrative. An interview of the subject is required. Your profile must argue their newsworthiness and will draw on other contextual research to help you construct an authoritative, compelling story. 

Feature Length Story (50%)

Your feature length story will build on the learning of your news story and/or profile. In a 2,500-word narrative, tell the story of a research or clinical controversy. You may choose to highlight the perspective of the hospital, the insurance company, the patient/family, or the doctor. Because this is a digital magazine story, you may incorporate photographs, graphics, or even video. Think about how the affordances of the platform might help you tell your story in compelling ways and reach new audiences. 

Reader Responses and Reflections (15%)

You will post reading discussions on Canvas to set up our in-class discussions. Throughout the course, you will also be reflecting on your research and storytelling. What does a narrative help you say about your research? What is lost? How does story serve doctors and patients? Does it ever do a disservice?